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August 2020

Rail News: MOW

NRC chairman's column: Railway contracting in the 'New Normal'


One of the many benefits to being chairman of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) is that I am able to connect with industry colleagues more frequently. These interactions are both meaningful and interesting because we are able to come together and share information or best practices for the betterment of the industry.

The most significant challenge for me during this pandemic is learning how to compensate for the loss of face-to-face meetings, which have been so integral to my career. There is no true substitute for sitting across from your customer and engaging in a meaningful dialogue to address their needs, negotiating the terms of an agreement or simply enjoying a little camaraderie.

Nevertheless, we must press on. Completing everyday tasks is a different undertaking than it was just three months ago; meanwhile, requirements and regulations across all levels of governments continue to shift. To stay connected with our customers, I encourage contractors and suppliers to embrace online technology platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams for meetings, and to find creative ways to gather while practicing social distancing and wearing protective face coverings. We cannot compromise making the environment safe for both employees and customers.

I recently visited an industrial job site where the customer faced the challenge of transporting contractors to assess the scope of work. Instead of packing guests onto hi-rail vehicles to tour the site, the customer supplied electronic drone files to each contractor to review and estimate later. Drone utilization is not new to the rail industry, but finding new ways to use them is one way to keep our livelihoods intact.

Another casualty of the “New Normal” is the ability to listen to your customer in person and envision ways to improve a gang consist, or make an innovation to equipment that will improve productivity or enhance safety. When I look at railroading practices today, I can guarantee that the basis of our current track equipment and methodology is due to a collaboration between the railroads and the supply/contracting community. Those interactions have proven to be invaluable. As an industry, it is in our nature to adapt to change and I am confident we will rise to meet these new challenges.

Looking ahead. It is important that we remain good stewards of the industry while many of our trade shows have shifted to a virtual space. Transportation Technology Center Inc. recently conducted a successful series of webinars. This fall, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association will be offering live and on-demand content for its annual Connections Convention. Participating virtually in these events will ensure that our rail associations can weather the storm while continuing to deliver valuable information and services to their members.

The NRC staff and executive committee are closely monitoring the situation. NRC President Ashley Wieland and staff will keep the members apprised of any updates regarding our annual conference scheduled for January 2021.

 “Building a Safer and Stronger Railway Construction Industry Together!”

 — Jim Hansen, NRC Chairman

The National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association Inc.
80 M Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003

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